Washed Out Gave “Portlandia” Its Theme Song, But Don’t Hold That Against Him

"Mister Mellow," Ernest Greene's new album as Washed Out, works to subvert some of the conventions of chillwave, the microgenre he helped popularize.

IMAGE: Alexandra Gavillet.

Ernest Greene, the Georgia native who performs under the name Washed Out, has never lived in Portland, yet he wrote the song the rest of world thinks of when they think of the Rose City. "Feel It All Around," the lush bedroom-pop song that defined a genre—the embarrassingly named, never exactly embraced chillwave—and put Greene on the blogosphere radar, is the song that plays under the opening credits of Portlandia. It's our anthem, whether we like it or not.

Sure, there are some who think a Portland musician should have the honor of writing our theme song. Elliott Smith or the Dandy Warhols or the Wipers or Dead Moon. Still, thanks to Fred, Carrie and whoever works as IFC's music supervisor, Netflix subscribers from Ohio to Maine think of Washed Out's hit in the same space as Powell's or the Hawthorne Bridge. It's a point not lost on Greene.

"I think being on Portlandia helped tip the fanbase in favor of Washed Out," says Greene, who's played several Portland venues over the years, including a packed Doug Fir Lounge gig in 2013 he considers one of his best shows ever. "That opened up a lot of windows for us."

Not long after making it onto television in 2011, it was hard to walk into a coffee shop, yoga studio or American Apparel store without hearing "Feel It All Around." And while it's been nice to gain prominence thanks to the show, being "the Portlandia dude" comes with its constraints.

Greene's grown weary of the labels, and who could blame him? In addition to being "the guy with the song on that TV show," Greene is seen as one of the founders of chillwave, a hazy, homemade vision of electronic pop redolent of laid-back beach trips and stoned days in the park. Like a lot of blog-invented microgenres, quickly after its invention and hype it stopped being a name for something new and fresh, and soured into a sort of scarlet letter. It became the sound of the "too cool" instead of just "cool."

Mister Mellow, the new Washed Out album, works to subvert some of the conventions of chillwave. "My take on the record is that it's very tongue-in-cheek," Greene says. "There are songs that play around with the idea of what a chillwave song is and turn it on its head slightly." It's true. "Get Lost" is a dissonant anxiety attack of a song where Greene stitches into the beat a mashup of out-of-tune horns and an obnoxious peal of laughter you just know is at your expense. There's nothing "chill" about it.

Washed Out has even changed the way he performs live. In the past, Greene's toured with a live band. This time, he's bringing along only two supporting musicians. "From a performative angle," Greene says, "the show isn't as entertaining as a rock band with, like, jumping around and stuff, but making up for that is the crazy visuals on a projected screen." Greene's noticed a difference in how the audience reacts to his music. "A lot of times, people would be standing around with their arms crossed. I mean, you could tell they were entertained, but it's different than a rock show where you can feel the crowd's energy through their movement."

Despite the changes Greene's made to his sound and his live shows, those coming out in hopes of catching "Feel It All Around" won't be disappointed—Washed Out's been playing it at nearly every show since the beginning.

"I think what keeps it fresh for me is we change the musical arrangements for every tour," Greene says. "We want to keep it fresh for us, but also do right by fans and give them what they want. That's the fun part."

SEE IT: Washed Out plays Roseland Theater, 8 NW 6th Ave., with DEGA, on Friday, Aug. 18. 9 pm. $23 advance, $25 day of show. All ages.

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